Emanuel To Step Down As White House Chief Of Staff

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Chicago sources confirm that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will step down Friday to explore a bid for the Chicago mayor's office. Melissa Block talks to NPR's Mara Liasson and David Schaper for the latest.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered.�I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It was all winks and nods at the White House today.�

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Press secretary, White House): I will say that the president will have a personnel announcement tomorrow at 11:05 am from the East Room.

BLOCK: That invitation from press secretary Robert Gibbs for a personnel announcement is no small thing, and it's no secret that it has to do with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who manages the White House. He's the first person President Obama meets with in the morning and the last staffer he meets with at night.

Emanuel has been widely expected to leave his post to return to Chicago and run for mayor.�Word out of Chicago is that Emanuel will hit the pavement for just such a bid on Monday.

Joining us to discuss this change are NPRs David Schaper in Chicago and NPR's Mara Liasson at the White House.

David, lets start with you. What are you hearing from Democrats there in Chicago?

DAVID SCHAPER: Well, you know, there's been a buzz almost since the words left Mayor Richard Daley's lips a few weeks ago that he would be stepping down and not running for a seventh term that I wonder if Rahm Emanuel will come home and run for this office. And the word is that he will indeed be returning home to Chicago over the weekend and will, as you alluded to, hit the pavement on Monday.

He's going to start with, you know, meeting with some residents in certain city neighborhoods and trying to feel them out about their concerns and problems with the way the city is run right now. And that'll be one of the first steps as he builds an organization and takes the first few steps towards running for mayor in the city's February 2011 election.

BLOCK: Yeah, a job he's made no secret of aspiring to for some time.

SCHAPER: No. Yeah. In fact, he said last spring that he would love to be the mayor of his hometown. And it's always been an aspiration of his, but he would never challenge longtime Mayor Richard M. Daley, who he worked under in the 1980s.

He was his policy chief and chief fundraiser in the 1989 campaign in which Daley won his first term in office. He worked with David Axelrod on that campaign and others before moving on to the Clinton-Gore campaign, the Clinton White House and then returning home to run for Congress in 2002 in Rod Blagojevich's old congressional seat.

BLOCK: Well, Mara, what will Rahm Emanuel's departure mean for the White House? What has his imprint been on this administration?

MARA LIASSON: Well, I think he was first among equals in what really could be called a legislative machine. The president put together a team of hard-nosed political players with all the skills that were needed to get a big ambitious agenda passed on Capitol Hill.

And they did, regardless of how popular or unpopular some of those items where. Rahm really understood - and he is known by his first name, kind of like Cher or Bono.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: In some ways like Cher.

LIASSON: ...but he did - yes, in some ways like Cher. But he is one of the colorful, larger-than-life character. He is a colorful, larger-than-life character and he knew how to get things through Capitol Hill. And I think to a large part he succeeded.

Now, I think what this marks is the end of the first chapter of the Obama presidency, because he just doesn't have that kind of legislative agenda anymore. That's not what's going to be the driving force of the White House after November. There isn't a huge ambitious legislative agenda.

BLOCK: And, Mara, they are talking about two personnel announcements at the White House tomorrow, not just one.

LIASSON: That's right. They're going to announce that Pete Rouse, who is President Obama's senior adviser, longtime aide, he will fill the chief of staff post on an interim basis. Then he has to look for a permanent chief of staff. Maybe it will be Rouse, maybe he'll look outside.

There are a bunch of insiders and a few outsiders on the short list. I think whoever he picks will be somebody the president is very comfortable with, because he is famous for having a very tightly held small group of people who run the White House with him.

But I don't think a decision will be made until after November, and things might look a lot different for the president after November and he might want to choose a chief of staff to fit that new environment.

BLOCK: And, David, what sort of reception do you figure a Rahm Emanuel candidacy will get there in Chicago?

SCHAPER: Well, it's not going to overwhelming warm enthusiasm. You know, a lot of people have been waiting for Mayor Daley to step down and move on so that they could run for that office. And they're not real crazy about Rahm Emanuel coming back home and, in some people's opinions, muscling them out of the race.

It's going to be a wide open race. It's not going to be an easy task for Mr. Emanuel to come back here and put together the sort of coalition that he would need, both racially and ethnically, and putting together the financial wherewithal to make that kind of run.

So it'll be an interesting race, a tough race, and certainly not an easy one.

BLOCK: OK. Thanks to you both. NPR's David Schaper in Chicago and NPR's Mara Liasson at the White House.

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